|For Comments and/or Suggestions, Please contact Site Owner at: email@example.com
© 2007 (PAGE LAST MODIFIED ON 07-07-07)
|THE OL' BELLE ISLE COACH STATION
|This photo shows the Belle Isle Waiting Room and |
Convenience Station shortly after it was completed in
1921. In those days, bus service to Belle Isle was
provided by the city's Parks and Boulevards Dept.
|This Detroit Free Press photo shows the old bus depot |
shelter after it had been razed by the city during the
night. All that appears to have remained in tact the next
morning was the building's red-shingled roof.
|The left (Detroit Free Press) photo shows the old "Belle Isle Coach Station" sign as it use to hang from the roof of the bus station.
The right (Detroit News) photo shows two members of the Friends of Belle Isle attempting to salvage what's left of the shelter's
wooden sign, after the bus station had been demolished by a private contractor hired by the city.
|This circa 1923 photo (from the Bernie Drouillard collection) shows the former Belle Isle Coach Station,
located at the entrance to the then recently completed Belle Isle Bridge. Also visible in this photo is the
former Electric Park amusement park (which closed in 1928) and the renowned Grand Boulevard subway
tunnel entrance to the Belle Isle bridge. (on-line photo source: InternationalMetropolis.com)
Although the ol' sign that use to hang along-side the brick and concrete, red-shingled-roof landmark, located at the Belle
Isle bridge,l use to read "Belle Isle Coach Station," the structure was initially built by the City of Detroit to be used for
streetcar service. l Completed back in 1921, the waiting and convenience station was located beside the entrance to the
Belle Isle Bridge, near E. Jefferson and E. Grand Boulevard. But in the name of progress, that graceful old brick shelter
was suddenly bulldozed by the city back in July 1980l to make way for a federally funded Department of Transportation
project, which was designed to improve the flow of traffic to and from the island.
THE HISTORY OF THE BELLE ISLE BUS STATION:
Back in 1914, city officials had decided to turn all of the city's riverfront into parkland, much like was done in the city of
Chicago. Plans were in the works to develop parks, picnic areas, and bandstands all along the Detroit River.
During that time, the entrance to Belle Isle Park, at Grand Boulevard and East Jefferson, was one of the city's busiest
intersections. The intersection served as the terminus for three streetcar lines—the Crosstown, Fort-East and Myrtle
lines—and was also serviced by the East Jefferson streetcar line. As a result, the city decided to hire two young former
Albert Kahn architects, named Mildner and Eisen, who then set out to design the most charming streetcar stop they
could. The construction of the Belle Isle Streetcar Station was intended to be the first step to signal the rededication
of Detroit's waterfront to public use. But disappointingly, the brick and concrete streetcar stop, done in a classic Roman
motif style architectural design, complete with "arched windows and dainty balconies on which flowers once flaunted,"
would become the only part of Detroit's waterfront plan to be implemented.
After the original wooden bridge to the island was accidentally destroyed by a fire on April 27, 1915, construction would
begin in 1921 on the island's current concrete and steel arch bridge, which was specifically designed to repeat the same
architectural themes found on the streetcar station. Although 2,159 feet of double streetcar trackage was built into the
roadway along the east side of the bridge, streetcar service to the island was never implemented, as the DSR began to
focus more on converting many of its rail lines to buses. Consequently, the tracks were never used, remaining exposed
for decades and basically lying idle until the bridge's roadway was repaved during the early 1950's.
Although originally intended as a streetcar waiting station, the shelter was never specifically used as such, as there were
no direct rails accessing the station from the nearby streetcar lines along Jefferson Avenue. Instead, the station served
as a layover and boarding station for the Belle Isle bus line. Bus service to Belle Isle had been first implemented by the
city's Department of Parks and Boulevards in 1909. Service by bus remained after the DSR took over the service
in 1924. The station would continue on as the waiting station for the Belle Isle bus route for nearly sixty years.
But during the mid-1970's, and much to the disappointment of
many, the condition of the station had deteriorated, becoming
a haven for alcoholics, bums and vandals. It wasn't uncommon
to find vagrants sleeping on the floor as you walked in the door
each morning. According to the city's Recreation Department
Director, Dr. Daniel H. Krichbaum, "the coach station had been
boarded up for at least 10 years," with the police also reporting
a number of muggings occurring at the station in recent times.
The bus station had basically become an eyesore, littered with
paper debris, graffiti, and drifts of wine bottles and beer cans all
along the floor.
But despite the sordid condition of the place, plans had been in
the works by the Friends of Belle Isle (a non-profit group of
island supporters), along with the Michigan History Division
of the Secretary of State's Office, to persuade the city to
refurbish and/or relocate the building. There were also plans to
get the old shelter listed on the National Register of Historic
But as was often the custom during the Coleman A. Young
administration, such historic preservationist groups were many
times labeled by the Mayor as a major hindrance to progress in
the city. Nevertheless, it was still understandable that members
of the Friends of Belle Isle were horrified when informed the
administration had the shelter demolished without public notice.
Demolition of the old station began after normal working hours,
during the evening of Tuesday, July 1, 1980. Detroiters awoke
the next morning to discover that the old bus shelter had been
According to a Detroit Free Press news article written around
the time, an onlooker had reported that "...the structure's four
corners were knocked in by bulldozers around 7:30 p.m.," and
added, "All that remains is the shelter's red-shingled roof, which
collapsed intact." The Free Press article also reported that when the state historic preservation coordinator was informed
that the building had been demolished, he sarcastically commented, "Well, that takes care of that, doesn't it.," and also
added, "That's one way of dealing with the problem."
Another reaction reported in The Detroit News was that of a Miss Helen Treacy, a member of the Friends of Belle Isle
organization, who wailed, "...And the Recreation Department comes along and tears it down without even telling us!"
But according to the July 3, 1980, edition of The Detroit News, Theodore Jordan, assistant director of the city's Parks
and Recreation Department, stated that there was no attempt at subterfuge in knocking the building down after normal
working hours. Jordan also added that, "The building has no historical value. We know it was built in 1921, but that's
all we know."
According to Joyce Garrett, then director of the city's Public Information Department, "...it wasn't worth the money.
Renovation would have cost a quarter of a million dollars," and added, "...Relocation was not feasible because of the
building's condition and (the) expense."
Ms. Garrett also added, "A new and 'much better boarding area' will be built on the east side of the roadway, near the
original shelter's location on East Jefferson."
The city's demolition of the Belle Isle Coach Station was part of a planned $11.5 million federally funded renovation
project. According to the Recreation Department Director, a newly configured roadway would cut through the location
on which the coach station sat, providing for easier access and egress to the island. Of course, by the time the Island's
newly remodeled bridge was dedicated in 1987, the ol' Belle Isle Coach Station was already history. The replacement
boarding area promised by the city turned out to be just an ordinary bus stop sign, without a shelter.
|A FEW TRANSPORTATION RELATED TRIVIA INFORMATION REGARDING BELLE ISLE PARK|
|The first ferry boat service to Belle Isle actually began in 1840. But after the city purchased the Island |
in 1879, ferry service to the island as a city-owned public park was initially provided by the Detroit,
Belle Isle & Windsor Ferry Company (founded in 1881). Ferry service by the company between Detroit
and Belle Isle began in the summer of 1882. The initial 10¢ ferry boat fare would remain in effect until
later raised to 15¢ in 1951.
|The first bridge to Belle Isle opens, costing $295,000 to construct. The steel and mostly wooden |
structure bridge also had a swing section which was swung open beginning every night at midnight, and
would remain open until the next morning.
|Bus service to Belle Isle Park begins under the city's Department of Parks and Boulevards.|
|Work would begin, and continue over the next few decades, to enlarge the island, as the Lagoon area |
on the east end of the island, and the site for the future Scott Fountain on the west end are created by
using land fill generated from downtown construction projects, and from the building of new streetcar
lines during the early 1920's. (The James Scott Fountain was completed in 1925)
|The original mostly wooden bridge burns down on April 27, 1915. It was replaced in July, 1916, by a |
temporary span built on piles or stilts, costing $99,999, and built just to the west of the former bridge.
|On April 15, 1919, the citizens of Detroit voted to build a new Belle Isle Bridge at a cost of $3 million.|
|The nearly half mile-long reinforced concrete and steel arch bridge, consisting of 19 spans, opened on |
September 1, 1923. The new bridge cost $2,635,000, along with the lives of five workman. The subway
approach to the bridge, under E. Jefferson from the Boulevard, cost $467,000 to construct.
|The DSR began operating its own fleet of buses on Belle Isle, although it had already taken over the |
operation of the bus service from the city's then Department of Parks and Boulevards in June, 1924.
The DSR began to use its own buses on February 1, 1925, just one month after the DSR's Motorbus
Division began operations.
|The Belle Isle Bridge was renamed the "Douglas MacArthur Bridge" in honor of General Douglas |
MacArthur of World War II and later Korean War fame, whose name it retains to this day.
|Ferry boat service to the island comes to an end. The last two remaining ferry boats to Belle Isle--the |
Mascot and the Belle Isle--discontinue their operations.
|Beginning in 1984, the MacArthur Bridge underwent an $11.5 million renovation project, which was |
completed in 1986. The two streets which allowed access to the bridge, E. Jefferson and E. Grand Blvd.,
were also redesigned. The once famous East Grand Blvd. underpass (or subway) to the bridge, which
permitted traffic to enter the island via a tunnel under E. Jefferson, was also filled-in and removed
during this renovation project.
|The city's Department of Transportation bus system attempts to implement seasonal bus service to |
Belle Isle, operating only between April 1st and the Labor Day Holiday. But after protests from senior
citizens before the Detroit City Council, full-year service is restored within four days.
|After nearly 100 years of operation, the city's Department of Transportation discontinues bus service |
to the island, effective on April 21, 2007.
Did you know??? At one time the entrance to the Belle Isle Bridge had its very own bus station—one which
was once considered to be "...the greatest little bus stop in the world."
SPECIAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: We at "DetroitTransitHistory.info" would like to thank the Friends of
Belle Isle Organization, who (back in 2005) supplied this site–owner with the numerous newspaper clippings that
were used for compiling much of the above information regarding the City of Detroit's former Belle Isle Coach Station.
|Information for the above article compiled from information obtained through numerous July 1980, Detroit Free Press and Detroit News articles supplied by
the Friends of Belle Isle, and from the S. Sycko Collection. Belle Isle trivia info obtained from "City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922" by Burton, Stocking
and Miller (S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1922), and from various online "Belle Isle History" related web-sites, including City of Detroit (Recreation Dept.), and
Friends Of Belle Isle at www.fobi.org. Bernie Drouillard Collection entrance to Belle Isle Bridge photo originally posted at InternationalMetropolis.com.
Belle Isle transit info courtesy of various Jack E. Schramm publications on the history of the DSR, and from artifacts gathered from this author's collection.
|The unique website which takes a detailed look back at the History of Public Transportation in
and around the City of Detroit.
ATTENTION VISITORS: Certain operating systems, particularly on Mac PCs, may distort the layout of this web-page. Adjusting the default font size
will also affect how this page displays. A printer-friendly (primarily text-only) version (right) is available for those experiencing page layout issues.
|Click-on Printer Icon to view Printer Friendly Version